How to Get Teenage Girls on Bikes; Focus on Something More Than Beauty

Recently, Scientific American released a much talked about article stating that in order to assess the “bikeability” of a city, you simply count the number of women on bikes. The conclusion is that the safer the city is for cycling, the more women you’ll have on bikes.
In Canada, women make up just 30 percent of cyclists and in Toronto under 2 percent of the population choose bicycles as their main transportation choice. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
To make cycling a more “attractive” option for women in the UK, campaigns are popping up that place emphasis on looking good while cycling. However, is this the only concern keeping young girls off their bikes? Sarah Phillips says, “no.”
What’s stopping teenage girls from riding bikes?

Campaigns to get women cycling seem to focus on how to look good over other concerns. Is this really all girls care about?

Posted by Sarah Phillips

Teenage girls don’t ride bikes. Or so says the Darlington Media Group, who have set about trying to rectify the problem with a campaign to get young women cycling.

Several years ago, the National Children’s Bureau published research that revealed that on average, boys cycle 138 miles a year and girls only 24 miles. This still rings true. Christie Rae, 16, from Newcastle told me: “I do have a bike, but I don’t really use it. Only sometimes in the summer when my friends and I cycle round to see each other. I don’t know many girls that do, actually.”

Darlington’s project began with the production of a documentary called Beauty and the Bike, chronicling a trip made by a group of teenage girls to Bremen in Germany, where they met their cycling-loving peers and found out about the joys of the open road. It all sounds slightly twee, but addresses the important issue that girls tend to get to a certain age and it’s no longer the done thing to get about by bike.

I have every admiration for such attempt to get women enjoying the numerous benefits of cycling, but what is frustrating is the focus on appearance that is often so integral to said schemes. Aside from the title, BATB, which incidentally has been used for a similar scheme in the past, Darlington’s site makes it clear they are keen to address the important issue of remaining fashionable while cycling. But as I recall, it was an overprotective mother that stopped me from spending too much time around the bike sheds in my teenage years, rather than any personal concerns over the way I looked.

Another offender is the site Bike Belles, run by the otherwise excellent charity Sustrans, which encourages women of all ages to take up cycling. One helpful section dedicated to beauty tips provides such gems as: “Use waterproof mascara when it’s raining on your bike, and take a powder compact for a quick refresher on arrival.” Admittedly, I write as someone who occasionally arrives at the office sporting a minor oil slick on my face, but I sincerely doubt that women are so image conscious that this is what is stopping them. As many a female cyclist will confirm, it is more hassle than it’s worth looking attractive while travelling by bike.

Aside from fashion tips, the beauty bikers and belles both voice concerns over the lack of decent cycle lanes and safety issues that make our roads a wholly unappealing prospect. Those two are serious issues that would put inexperienced riders off, and are much more worthy of a campaign to get people, regardless of gender, on their bikes.

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